Belgium's Blind Crime Fighters

"I really felt like I was part of the team from the first moment I came here," said Van Loo. "We were not these blind handicapped people for whom they had to find a place. They really accepted us for what we were, for our abilities and our work."

This smooth integration was the result of two years of hard work and preparation.

"It is not easy at first to accept the idea that a blind man can work as a policeman," said Van Thielen, director general of the Belgian Judicial Federal Police.

The police officers who are now working with Van Loo were coached by the Ligue Braille, an institute specialized in training blind people and creating blind-friendly work environments.

"We had to put people at ease," said Cindy Gribomont, a trainer with the Ligue Braille. "Many of the policemen were embarrassed to use the verb 'see' in front of blind people."

"We learned that it's not a problem at all to say see you later to a blind man," said Van Thielen.

The Ligue also had to customize law enforcement equipment for the new visually impaired officers.

"Computers are the same," said Gribomont, "but they don't use their mouse or their screen. They have a special Braille, bar which allows them to read what's on the screen."

They also use speaker phones to "read" their screen and a special device that prints out the characters in Braille.

Six months after the blind unit was set up, Van Thielen is very satisfied with initial results.

The blind police officers are "courageous and positive," said Thielen, "and they do a job that no one else could do as well as them. There is no doubt that we will keep on working with them."

"The question now," said Thielen, "is whether we can hire others."

It's a cause that is close to Van Loo's heart.

"In Belgium, it's very difficult for blind people to find a job," said Van Loo. "Not every single blind person should work for the police, but there are jobs in which blind people could be very useful."

"I know very gifted blind people, who are very good with computers and should normally find a job immediately, but employers are afraid to hire them."

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